Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 2

Season 3 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 302: “Surrender”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Hiding in a cave, Jamie leads a lonely life until Lallybroch is threatened by redcoats pursuing the elusive Jacobite traitor. In Boston, Claire and Frank struggle to coexist in a marriage haunted by the ghost of Jamie.

My take:

Major plot points:

Once again, the episode follows two separate times. We see Jamie’s world in 1752, and Claire’s in 1949.

  • Six years have passed since Culloden. Jamie is a silent, shattered shell of a man, living in a cave in the woods near Lallybroch.
  • Despite being in hiding, a legend seems to have sprung up about the “Dunbonnet” — a red-haired outlaw who covers his hair with a brown bonnet.

  • The redcoats come by Lallybroch regularly to harass the family and search for Red Jamie. They arrest Ian over and over again to try to force information from the family.
  • Things come to a head for Jamie when he’s nearly caught in the house soon after Jenny gives birth to Young Ian, endangering the entire family. Next, Fergus taunts the redcoats who follow him, until one cuts off his hand. Jamie rushes him to the house and his life is saved, but Jamie feels terrible about the horrible danger the family is in because of him.
  • Finally, he decides that Jenny should turn him in to the redcoats, so that the family will collect the reward offered for his capture and clear themselves of any further suspicion.
  • The night before this plan goes through, Mary McNab brings Jamie a final meal in his cave, trims his hair and shaves his beard, and invites him to sleep with her as a last comfort before he goes to prison.
  • The next day, Jamie and Jenny put on a performance for the British, who show up during Jamie’s supposed homecoming and take him off to prison.
  • Meanwhile, in Boston, Claire continues to dream of Jamie. While she’s resumed a sex life with Frank, she does so with her eyes shut, and Frank realizes that she’s still with Jamie in her heart and in her head.
  • Brianna is about a year old, and although Claire has thrown herself into motherhood, she misses having something meaningful to contribute to the world.
  • By the end of the episode, we see Claire attending her first anatomy class at Harvard Medical School, where the professor scornfully remarks that between her and the “Negro” student, they’ve become very progressive. The other students (white, male) act like jerks, but Claire and Joe Abernathy, the sole African American student, introduce themselves, and it’s clear that this will be the start of a lasting friendship.

Insta-reaction:

This show. Really. They are just ON this season, and it’s glorious.

Poor Fergus. The actor playing him is so adorable and sweet, although I believe this is the last time we’ll see him. By the time we focus on Fergus again (assuming more or less the chronology from the books), years will have passed and we’ll have an older actor playing the character. Meanwhile, though, this Fergus has grown up a bit since season 2 — he’s taller and his voice is deeper! Such a sweetie. The scene with the British officers was horrible*, although I appreciate how faithful to the book the scene was where Fergus and Jamie talk afterwards, and Fergus reminds Jamie that he’d once sworn to support him for the rest of his life if he ever lost his hand while in Jamie’s employ, a very real possibility for a pickpocket. (How ironic that he finally suffers this fate after “going straight”, no longer a pickpocket but just a boy working on a farm.)

*Does it strike anyone else as implausible that the soldiers would pin Fergus down and chop off his hand? Why would they do this? Maybe they’d beat him or take him away, but really, cut off his hand? It seems so out of place. In the books, it’s accidental. Same perpetrator (British soldier), same outcome for Fergus, but a little easier to accept than an act of outright brutality that’s just a bit too out there.

Jamie is so shattered in this episode. It’s painful to look at his face and realize that his life is just completely empty. He loves Jenny and her family, but as Ian points out, Claire is Jamie’s heart, and now his heart is gone. Gotta love the Dunbonnet look on Jamie, with the long hair* and scraggly beard. Such a wild man! The scene where he brings home the deer to feed the family and silently butchers it shows Jamie’s awful, continuous pain so clearly.

*Although if the point of the “dun bonnet” is to cover up Red Jamie’s signature hair, it’s not very effective. Those glorious red locks flowing past his shoulders are not exactly inconspicuous.

I did feel that the episode should have shown the world beyond Lallybroch in the Scotland scenes. Based only on the show, you might assume that the Fraser/Murphy family is specifically being targeted, when in history, we know that this was the time of the Clearances, when the British army ravaged the Highlands, destroyed the clans, and left the people starving and under constant threat of imprisonment and worse.

Meanwhile, the Claire and Frank scenes are an odd mix of hopeful and hopeless. There is a spark, such as when Claire and Frank coo over Brianna (and it doesn’t hurt that Frank is clad only in a towel at the time). Claire is a sex-positive woman, and there’s only so long she’s going to go without. In the two sexual encounters between Claire and Frank (as well as in the scene of her pleasuring herself while Frank sleeps), Claire takes the lead and does what feels good to her. Frank is too astute not to get what’s going on. No matter how much he loves her and wants her, he recognizes that she used to look at him while they made love, and now she keeps her eyes closed. Not very subtle, Claire. At the beginning of the episode, they’re sleeping side by side in the same bed — but by the end, they say good-night and sleep in twin beds, in the same room but with empty space between them. This marriage is not doing well, no matter the happy faces they put on for company.

On a positive note for Claire, I’m thrilled to see her starting medical school (where I’m sure she could run circles around all those awful people in her anatomy class — how many of them have performed amputations and sewn up battle wounds, hmmm?). However, I would have liked to have seen some discussion of this between her and Frank. Was he supportive? Did he realize she needed something in her life besides house and baby? Or is he just so defeated already by her distance that he sees this as maybe a way to ground her in her life a bit more? I know a one-hour episode can’t possibly include everything, but I feel like there’s something missing as background to Claire’s showing up in anatomy class.

Jamie’s interlude with Mary McNab was sweet and nicely done. She’s a kind woman who appreciates what Jamie has done for all of Lallybroch and knows how he’s about to sacrifice himself. Her offer of comfort and healing is something Jamie needs, even if he doesn’t think he wants it. It’s been too long for him since he’s allowed anyone to really reach him or touch him, and just for this moment, he’s able to make a connection.

The parallels between Jamie and Claire’s lives lie largely in the sexual encounters shown. Claire reconnects sexually with Frank, but always with Jamie on her mind  and in her fantasies. Jamie abstains from human contact, barely even speaks when he’s around people, and is thoroughly withdrawn from other people, living only in his mind and with his memories of Claire. He does finally allow himself to be touched by Mary, which perhaps is a first step for Jamie in accepting that his life with Claire is truly over.

By episode’s end, both Jamie and Claire have made life-changing decisions — Jamie by turning himself in and facing years, or possibly a lifetime, in prison, and Claire by enrolling in medical school. They’ve both been feeling trapped by what their lives have become, although Claire is opening a door to professional freedom and achievement, while Jamie will not be free for a long, long time.

The episode title, “Surrender”, is an interesting choice. Jamie has surrendered to the British, but I’d say he’s also surrendered his isolation and mourning, finally giving in to the reality of his life without Claire. He’s lived in limbo for all these years, but now he’s accepting that this is the life he has. Claire makes it clear that she’ll never give up her longing for Jamie, but she too takes steps in this episode to embrace living this new version of a life — and while she’ll never fully connect with Frank (could there be a wider gulf than the foot separating their two beds?), she’s surrendered to the need to find meaning where and when she is. A surrender is not a happy condition — it implies giving up and giving in — but there’s also an element of acceptance: The person surrendering can’t have what he or she truly wanted, and now they agree to move forward and accept the punishment or consequences, without what they desire most.

Such a sad way to think about Jamie and Claire’s lives. And no wonder adult Brianna feels that her mother was never truly present emotionally.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

A powerful, moving episode that’s quite faithful to the overall flow of the book, even keeping intact certain pieces of dialogue. I feel that the Jamie and Claire sections really flow together well, and the cutting from one era to another never feels jarring. The mood I get from all this is interconnectedness  — despite the distance and years between them, there’s still a firm tie between Claire and Jamie that can’t be undone or ignored.

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5 thoughts on “Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 2

  1. Actually, Lisa, the Highland Clearances started a couple of decades after Culloden and went on well into the 19th century. The repression after Culloden is of course implicated but it was the landlords, several of them clan chiefs, who evicted their own tenants to make way for sheep, which they thought would be more profitable. Which is why many of us in Scotland are somewhat ambivalent about the romanticisation of the clan system. I can recommend the books of Dr Jim Hunter on the subject of the Scottish Diaspora, particularly A Dance Called America and Set Adrift Upon the World, which is the story of the very brutal early 19th century Sutherland Clearances.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Hunter/e/B001JP07TE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

    Enjoying your Insta-Reactions! We Glaswegians have been enjoying seeing Glasgow University and the city’s West End standing in for Harvard and Cambridge, Mass.

    • Thanks for setting me straight, Maggie! I’m happy to get my facts from a reliable source. 🙂 I knew they were filming in Scotland, but didn’t realize that was Glasgow in the role of Cambridge!

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